Senior Great British number 2 10m Air Pistol Shooter James Miller gives an insight into the life of an athlete at University. How does he deal with high pressure, stress and motivation while juggling both academic study and competitive sports?
Words by Molly Openshaw
Currently holding three British records in Air Pistol Shooting at the age of 20, James Miller is one of the up and coming athletes of his generation. Alongside studying Architecture at Cardiff University, Miller balances a rigorous training schedule with his studies as well as playing Lacrosse for the Cardiff Men’s First Team. With these high-pressure commitments and a busy schedule, James explains his strategies for coping with the hard work.
Miller credits the Scouts organisation for his interest in pistol shooting. Starting in 2010 with his local Scout unit James started shooting as a hobby with his friends explaining that he was “able to shoot, compete and have fun”. What started off as a hobby quickly developed as Miller was accepted into the National Scout Shooting Squad after a local Scout leader recognised some raw talent and interest in the sport. Soon after shooting for the National Scout Shooting Squad, James was accepted into the South East Regional Pistol Squad (SERPS) in 2015. After moving to Cardiff for university in 2018, James now shoots for Welsh Target Shooting Federation (WTSF). James explains that shooting has always been something he enjoys and after lots of hard work he has now made some amazing accomplishments.
“I saw competitions as a chance to develop further no matter their level. After a lot of hard work, I am just starting to gain some serious achievements but I sill see it all as a way of developing further”.
Some of these recent achievements include being a European Silver Medallist in 2020 and being a double Welsh Champion who now holds four Welsh records. James has competed in multiple Junior World Cups and European Championships. In 2018 he competed in the World Championships in Changwon. James also represented Team GB at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires coming ninth in the world. Also, in 2018 James received the Surrey Young Sports Personality of the Year award, with a special mention for his help in coaching and mentoring other pistol shooters and raising awareness for pistol shooting as a sport. All of these achievements show James’ sportsmanship and dedication to his sport.
James explains that his greatest achievement so far has been winning a Silver medal at the European Championships in 2020 in Wroclaw, Poland. After the qualification which saw James in second place out of the 44 other competitors, he continued to achieve second place in this final and secured a silver medal for Great Britain. James was credited for returning Great Britain to medal status in 10-metre air pistol shooting. This is an amazing accomplishment for James and Great Britain as pistol shooting has been seen as a more unusual sport and is not very well known at the moment.
“It was my first Major International medal but it was also the first time an under 21 10m Air pistol European Championships Medal has been won by a Great British athlete. It is great to have this achievement as well as being able to set a precedent for future GB shooters.”
After a year of no shooting competitions after Covid-19 prevented athletes from training, James is excited to compete in the 2021 European championships in Croatia. Competitions have been cancelled for the last year and it has been difficult to get to training with restrictions, however, James has remained dedicated and thorough in his training. For the first six months of the pandemic, James was training at his home in Surrey with limited resources while maintaining contact with his coach over Zoom. This was hard work as there was more of a focus on long term goals with the lack of regular competitions. This also was a time where James was able to focus on his mental performance and look at the psychological behaviour behind being an athlete.
James is currently in his third year studying architecture at The Welsh School of Architecture at Cardiff University. He explains that he deals with juggling both University and competing by planning rigorously. “I spend some time at the start of the year to plan out important dates for competitions and exams. Then I work through each month and determine what needs to be achieved for when. From then on, I work from a plan that manages my time down to each hour of the day. It all seems complex but it is a lifesaver, even just a quick plan of the next few months can go a long way.”
This kind of lifestyle is time-consuming with not much downtime, James discusses how he does not have to encourage himself to shoot, as he enjoys it. this focus on enjoyment is instrumental to James’ attitude towards sport as he continues to achieve in his career as a result of his positive attitude.
“I really don’t need to motivate myself to just shoot; I love it and everything about it. If I wasn’t able to compete then I would still be perfectly happy. However, I motivate myself to compete and train by realising that I am unique. Not everyone has the same opportunities as me, so why should I waste them. It’s always hard forcing yourself to get up ridiculously early mornings to complete work before training and it’s just as hard having to go to bed early when your friends are still out having fun but at the end of the day I know my time is limited and I certainly do not want to waste it by living someone else’s life.”
One of James’ biggest inspirations in sport has been Jonny Wilkinson. This is because of his positive attitude towards sporting. “Since I was very young, a large role model for me in the sporting industry would be Jonny Wilkinson. I always loved his passion for Rugby, his willingness to put everything he has into a game and his determination to always be the best he could.” James also finds inspiration in his family and friends in helping him with his training and supporting him throughout his career.
James credits a lot of his success to his mental attitude and focuses on self-reflection. To James, shooting is not about your score or the result of each patch but positive development and improvement. His positive attitude towards training is what sets him apart from other competitors. We can all appreciate the mental aspect of sport, but how is this actually put into practice? “Self-reflection and motivation have been crucial to my success. Being able to reflect on how far I’ve come from the first time I picked up a pistol has always been a strong way of motivating me through slower times. Additionally, being able to say that I have earned my all achievements, regardless of size, through hard work and determination has allowed me to deal with mental burdens such as imposter syndrome. Once again, at the end of the day I always remind myself that I still enjoy just being able to shoot, no matter how many times I win or lose, no matter who beats me and how they beat me, I will always pick the pistol and continue to shoot and have fun. I have never thought sport was all about winning, if that was so then it would have become boring a long time ago. I feel the sport is about always being able to pick yourself back up and continuing to love the game, no matter how hard you fall.”
This year James is on the Lacrosse Committee as the Male Wellbeing Officer who reinforces positive mental attitude in sport and is a role model for hard work in sport. James has been an active member of the Lacrosse club as well as maintaining his Architecture degree and Pistol shooting. This shows how it is possible to maintain being an athlete and a student with hard work and dedication.
“My advice for anyone wanting to get into sport competitively is to make sure you still always having fun. The most important factor is pure love for the fundamentals of a sport. Without the willingness to appreciate, and the strive to preserve a perfect pass, shot or goal then the ambition to be the best is lost.”
We can hope to see James excel in the future as he continues to aim high in his sporting career.